I’ve been on a mission to find fantastic books for 7 – 9 year old boys that they’ll love. When my son was between seven and eight he was an advanced reader. He started to find books like Horrid Henry, Astrosaurs and Jeremy Strong’s stories too easy, but he was put off by the length of books for older children. For many of his friends Michael Morpurgo’s books bridged the gap, but Chris found them a bit sad, and I must admit I avoided another firm favourite with his peer group: BeastQuest.
Why are there so many formulaic, team written books for new readers? I can only guess it’s that children find comfort in continuing with a series they know they can read. I have mixed feelings about some of them (not all!). If children find a love of reading through these books – and many have – I’m all for that, but during my research I’ve had parents, booksellers and teachers flinch at the name of particular titles and yet those books command so much shelf space. Can’t we do better for children? Parents must vote with their wallets.
With a bit of searching we did find some stories for my son and I also wrote St Viper’s School for Super Villains for more able readers like him (see reviews of my book.) Since writing an article in a local magazine about how St Viper’s came about, I’ve had parents email and tell me face-to-face that there are not enough good books for 7 – 8 year old boys in particular, whatever their reading level. Now my son is a year older there does seem to be a lot more choice. Having raised this issue on a books forum and spoken to children’s writers, teachers, parents and booksellers, I feel there are good books for this readership, but they are not always easy to spot in the sea of big brands. And for more able readers it often means finding age-appropriate books aimed at older children.
So, I thought it would be helpful to come up with a list of great books for 7- 9 year old boys. I’ve asked for recommendations, scoured forums and read every book suggested to me. Writing for this readership is difficult to do well. The author needs to be able to see the world through the eyes of a boy this age, write according to the child’s reading ability with easy-to-read text and short chapters and make the book exciting.
Here are my top choices, which tick all the boxes. I’ve roughly ordered them in terms of reading ability starting with books to build confidence:
Flat Stanley. Series Written by Jeff Brown.
Poor Stanley Lampchop is squashed flat when a board falls on top of him, but being the happiest of children he takes it all in his stride and makes the most of his new shape: being posted in an envelope, flown as a kite and used as a painting in a museum. Timeless classic. Great for children building confidence with reading.
You’re a Bad Man, Mr Gum! Series Written by Andy Stanton.
Mr Gum is a nasty old man who hates children, animals, fun and corn on the cob. His house is a pigsty, filled with junk and pizza boxes, but he has an amazing garden. This is not due to Mr Gum being a Chelsea-award-winning garden designer but is because an angry fairy whacks him with a frying pan if he fails to keep his garden super tidy. But a dog called Jake starts to dig up the garden on a regular basis and Mr Gum is punished by the fairy. He decides to get rid of the dog once and for all. Mad as a box of frogs. Laugh out loud funny.
Hooey Higgins and the Shark. Series written by Steve Voake.
Hooey and Twig are desperate to raise sixty five pounds to buy a gigantic chocolate egg. A shark has been seen in the waters of Shrimpton-on-Sea and they are convinced that people would pay a lot of money to see it. With the help of their friend, Will, they come up with a cunning plan, which involves a bottle of tomato ketchup, a cricket bat and a duvet, to capture the shark and charge fifty pence for a look at it in their bath. The boys’ plan doesn’t come off, but they do find the world’s biggest sea urchin, which turns out to be a Second World War mine. Great fun. Illustrations on most pages.
Welcome to Silver Street Farm. Series written by Nicola Davies.
Meera, Gemma and Karl have wanted to set up a city farm since the first day of infant school when they played with a headless sheep, some painted pink chickens and two cows with missing legs. The chance to make their dream a reality comes when an old railway station is closed down, which the children think is a perfect venue for their farm. But the council have other plans for the station and want to turn it into a car park. In the meantime, the children start being donated animals and have nowhere to keep them, but they are not going to give up on their dream easily. With determination, help from a friendly policeman and some singing supporters they win the day. A feel-good story.
The Roman Mystery Scrolls. Series written by Caroline Lawrence.
This is a new series set in ancient Rome. It is written by the well-respected author of The Roman Mysteries. In the Poisoned Honey Cake, Threptus, a soothsayer’s apprentice hasn’t eaten for two days as his mentor, Floridius, has gambled all his money away on chariot race. To make matters worse, Floridius is afraid he’s lost his talent for seeing the future, which means they’ll have no money to buy food. Threptus offers to try and find out some information that his mentor can use to convince people he still has the gift. But while he’s sneaking around, weak with hunger, he spots a honey cake left on an altar for a god. He seizes the cake and eats it, but soon finds out it is poisoned. Rich in historical detail.
Roald Dahl books.
There are some scrumptious Roald Dahl stories, such as Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and The BFG, but for boys beginning to read chapter books it is probably best to start with The Twits, George’s Marvellous Medicine and The Fantastic Mr Fox as they are shorter stories. The Fantastic Mr Fox is one of my favourite children’s books. Boggis, Bunce and Bean are wealthy and mean farmers who don’t take kindly to Mr Fox helping himself to a plump chicken, a goose or a nice turkey for supper. The farmers take action: guns fire, Mr Fox loses his tail and his young family are trapped in their hole. But Mr Fox is not called “fantastic” for nothing and he has a cunning plan. Fabulous fun.
Far-Flung Adventures. Fergus Crane. Series written by Paul Stewart and Chris Riddell. Winner of the Smarties gold award in 2004.
An inventive story with lots of imaginative mechanical gadgets and off-the-wall characters: a long lost uncle who grows macadacchio nuts with the help of a team of penguins and blood thirsty pirates who pretend to be school teachers in order to get the pupils to do their dangerous work for them. The pirates are seeking fire diamonds, which are only to be found deep inside a live volcano on Fire Isle and accessible only to the most agile explorer. The children are disposable as far as the pirates are concerned and once they’ve got their bucket of diamonds they’re sailing off into the sunset without them. Fergus, the young hero of this story, not only has to find his missing father but rescue the children as well on a mechanical winged horse. Fuel for the imagination. Gadgets galore. Quirky illustrations.
King of the Cloud Forests. Written by Michael Morpurgo.
Parents and booksellers recommended Michael Morpurgo’s books in general. King of the Cloud Forests is about a boy called Ashley who has to travel across the Himalayas with his Uncle Sung when Japan invades China. The journey is perilous. Uncle Sung disguises Ashley as a Tibetan and tells him not to speak to anyone, as he is at risk of being murdered for being a white foreigner and the son of a missionary. Ashley almost dies of infection, starvation and the cold and is hunted by wolves. Then, if his situation couldn’t get any worse, he is split up from his uncle. However help arrives from a community of yetis, who treat him as the King of the Cloud Forests. Michael Morpurgo is described as ‘The master storyteller’ and this book will not disappoint readers. It is suitable for able readers, who are ready for more challenging stories. The book is not illustrated. Thought provoking adventure.
How to Train Your Dragon. Written by Cressida Cowell.
To become a member of the Hairy Hooligan Tribe, Hiccup Horrendous Haddock the Third and the other young Vikings must pass a gruelling initiation test. There is a lot of pressure on Hiccup as not only is he the hope and heir of the tribe, but he’s also a bit weedy and not very brave. Even his dragon is the smallest and scrawniest of the bunch. But Hiccup has a special skill — he can speak Dragonese — and when the Viking community are threatened with being gobbled by the Sea Dragonus Maximus he becomes an unlikely hero. The How to Train Your Dragon series is great for boys moving towards longer books for older children. Seriously good fun.
Gangsta Granny. Written by David Walliams.
Every Friday night, Ben goes to stay at his boring Granny’s house where he plays Scrabble and eats cabbage soup. He hates being there and his granny knows he feels this way, so she pretends to be an international jewel thief to stop him seeing her as a dull old woman. They begin to have fun together again like they used to when he was younger. Gran cherishes the extra time she gets to spend with her grandson and Ben realises that she’s really rather lovely after all. But they get carried away and end up in the Tower of London trying to steal the Crown Jewels.
Like the How to Train Your Dragon series, this is a good book for boys moving to the next reading level. Funny and touching.
St Viper’s School for Super Villains.
If you are not familiar with my series, you can read about it on this website or by clicking on the link to visit Amazon. Here you will find more reader reviews. Thank you!http://www.amazon.co.uk/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=St%20Viper’s%20School%20for%20Super%20Villains
See also my latest blog: Super Books for Boys.